Publish or Perish

Back in the first year of my undergrad I remember being told “for every day spent in the field, expect to spend three in the office”, because “excavation without publication is destruction.” I didn’t believe it for a second, I thought I’d be gallivanting all over the place, digging things up with gay abandon, without a second thought for paper work or grant proposals or journal submissions. But here I am, in my office, working on four projects.

Hi, I’m Liesel. I’m a first year combined Masters/PhD student at the University of Western Australia. I’m in the Centre for Forensic Science because my research is in analytical chemistry, using techniques developed for use in forensic science and applying them to artefacts, rather than evidence.

The first project I’m working on today is writing up the excavations I just got home from in Egypt. I work with the University of Hawaii at Tell Timai, in the eastern delta. It’s an amazing, sprawling Greco-Roman city, slowly being eaten up by the two villages on either side of it. This season I worked on finishing the excavation of a Hellenistic house, you can read more about it on my blog. Today I have been in touch via email with other people on the project, all over the world, trading elevations for maps, maps for photos, and photos for past reports. We’re working on writing the site’s first monograph, and I will be co-authoring two chapters, one on the house and one on the coins from the site.

Today’s conundrum was; was the house built all in one go? Or was the west half added on later? I think it was added on later, because the walls are at a slightly different bearing, and they’re thicker. Also, the site ceramicist says the ceramic fill under the floor of the east and west halves are different.

The second is my PhD project, which involves chemical analysis of thousands of beautiful Spanish silver coins. As exciting as that might be, getting the coins from the museum to my university has proven more complicated than I had thought, and they haven’t arrived yet. So instead I am doing some background research and trying to teach myself the periodic table. I can recite up to Zinc without too much trouble now.

The third project is being on the national committee for NASC14, it’s a conference being held next year in Adelaide, South Australia for students of archaeology, run by students of archaeology. I think it’s a great idea and so just this week I decided to be a part of it.

The fourth project is coursework for my Masters degree. It’s in forensic science and I’m doing it at the same time as my PhD. Today was Advanced Forensic Anthropology, and I spent all afternoon measuring skulls. I’ll measure them all three more times and then run my measurements through some stats to look at how precise I am.

Even though I’ve been in the office all day, there’s plenty of interesting things going on here.

An archaeobureaucrat writes…

A day or so in my life as an archaeologist working for English Heritage.

Started off by working at home at Haslemere in Surrey, eating toast with tea while dealing with e-mails with Radio 4 providing the background noise.  As usual, was mildly distracted by Frankly the cat who views my attempts to sit down and work at a laptop as his cue to demand food with menaces and then attention, generally in that order. 

A demanding cat. Frankly.


E-mails give me a few things to deal with before I do anything else. There are corrections to check on a chapter I helped to write for the forthcoming book on the Elizabethan Garden reconstruction at Kenilworth Castle. I was involved in organising the programme of archaeological and architectural research that contributed to the project, and I’ve co-written the archaeological chapter with Joe Prentice of Northamptonshire Archaeology, who directed the excavations, and Brian Dix, garden archaeologist extraordinaire, who advised throughout. Not much left to do – just checking that the photographs are in the right order, have the right numbers and captions, and are available in the right format for reproduction.

That done, I moved on to deal with some work on our forthcoming organisational restructuring. It’s no secret that English Heritage took a huge hit in last year’s government Comprehensive Spending Review. The organisation is having to deal with the impact of a net 35% cut in our grant from government. I can’t say a great deal about what is currently going on, but it will come as no surprise to learn that many jobs are being lost, and that I and many of my colleagues will be put formally ‘at risk’ in the autumn, and will have to apply for a smaller number of jobs in the restructured National Heritage Protection group.  We’ve been through such reorganisations before, and I know the stress that this puts my colleagues through, but the scale and scope of these changes is greater than anything we’ve seen so far. A lot of colleagues are having to consider other career options and paths; an unsettling time for us all.

After a couple of hours, time to trek to the station to catch the 11am to Waterloo. I’ve been taking a few pictures to illustrate this blog, and drew pitying looks from fellow travellers as I took a photograph of the train as it came into Haslemere station.  I’m a blogger, not a trainspotter….


My train arriving at Haslemere station


The train was fairly full, but got a seat and used the time to write up the blog of the day so far. Also did a little more on the draft publication strategy and synopsis for the Windsor Castle updated project design.  I worked at Windsor from 1989 to 1995. We started off in the Round Tower, the shell keep that stands on top of the 11th-century motte, excavating and recording the structures as part of a major engineering project.

Round Tower team, 1989, with the blogger looking much younger.


We’d just finished that project and evacuated our site office in November 1992 when fire broke out in the Upper Ward. That was the start of a huge programme of salvage and architectural analysis, with some excavation involved too.

Archaeological salvage of fire debris starting in the Grand Reception Room, Windsor Castle, 1993

The assessment of these large project archives was largely complete by the end of 1998, but work has been on hold then for a number of reasons.  I’ve been in deep discussion with my colleague and good friend Dr Steven Brindle over the last few months, and the next stage is to get in touch with all the project specialists to let them know that the analysis may finally be about to happen. Hence the publication strategy, so they can see what we’re asking them to do.  By Guildford my seat was surrounded by loud and excitable children, and I was bitterly regretting having left my i-pod in my bag, which was overhead and thus inaccessible.


English Heritage offices at Waterhouse Square, Holborn

By bus to our Waterhouse Square offices in Holborn, where I find a seat among friends in London Region. Here I dealt with a variety of business by e-mail, including mundane admin tasks such as approving invoices and expenses.  Fortunately we have quite good electronic systems for dealing with such things, so they were finished very quickly. The online press summary included a link to a Telegraph opinion piece on the listing of London tube stations. I tweeted the link with my own comments, and was later gratified to learn that my comment “Entertainingly daft Torygraph rant” appeared on the relevant page of the Telegraph website.  A small but pleasing result. At this point I lost the use of the camera; my chum Dr Jane Sidell was off to give a walking tour of Roman London, and borrowed the camera to record the event.

Trying to persuade Dr Jane Sidell, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for London, to point the camera somewhere else.

I also had to draft a response to a member of the public who had written to say that she was disappointed to learn that we aren’t running the Fort Cumberland Festival of British Archaeology event this year. I explained that this was as disappointing to us as it was to her; our free FOBA weekend event has been very popular, usually attracting c. 2000 people over a weekend to enjoy a range of archaeological and related activities. We enjoy it as much as the visitors do. We had to take the difficult decision not to hold the event this year in late 2010; by then it was already clear that we would be in the middle of a major reorganisation, and in that context it seemed unfair to ask colleagues to commit their time and energies to planning the event at a time when they were likely to be severely distracted by other events. We hope to be able to reinstate the event next year, resources permitting…

At 2pm, I took part in a Portico project team  meeting. Portico is a project that aims to provide up-to-date research content on the English Heritage website for our historic properties. Enhanced content is already online for all of the free sites, and the first sets of pages for 12 of the pay sites are now available. An introduction to the project with links to the available content is available at (insert link).  We were updated on progress, which remains good; the first batch of site information is now online, and all of it has been or is being updated with links to online resources. Another batch of sites is nearly ready to go online, including Susan Greaney’s excellent Stonehenge pages.  The next stage of the project is currently being planned; I may have volunteered to write up one or two sites myself.  A day conference is being planned for London next April to promote the project. The introductory page on the EH site shows the content that’s available so far –

Following the meeting I had a very useful discussion with Christopher Catling about the National Planning Policy Framework, which is currently out for consultation.  I think we agreed that it’s a huge improvement on the earlier practioners’ draft, preserving more of PPS5, but there are still some concerns, including the assumption in favour of development that permeates the document.

After that, there was time to check e-mails and deal with a few more bits of business before catching the train home. This included correspondence relating to one of last year’s fieldwork projects, on the Romano-British settlement around Silbury Hill, and the forthcoming excavation at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, where we’ll be digging up parts of the French Parterre to assist in its restoration.

That was Thursday 28th July – I decided to write it up for Day of Archaeology as I was taking today off.  In the event, I took a trip to Corfe Castle, which I haven’t been to for far too long.  Despite the long queues of holiday traffic, it was a useful and hugely enjoyable visit. I always particularly enjoy the path up to the keep, which passes through the tumbled remains of the demolished sections of the keep. It’s very evocative of the sheer scale of destruction on this site.

The degree of destruction caused by slighting varies from site to site; this would appear to be off the vindictive end of the scale. The site is looking very good, but I was very disappointed by the new interpretation panels, full of rubbishy unhistorical cliches. The panel about ‘oubliettes’ was the worst example. It went on about the agonies of the poor prisoners abandoned in deep pit prisons. The work of Peter Brears has, of course, demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that such structures are strong-rooms, for the safe storage of documents, money and other valuables. The reason that they often have well-lit chambers with fireplaces above them is not to provide accommodation for the better-off prisoners, but to provide a room for the clerk or steward to work in. Worst of all, having conjured up imaginary sufferings  in imaginary oubliettes, the panel finished by admitting that no such chamber survived at Corfe. So the point of this rubbish was…..?  Rant over.

The effects of undermining - the tower has slid down the slope, and the curtain wall has fallen over.

I took some time looking at the evidence for the destruction of the site, which is a particular interest of mine. This was the subject of the thesis of a friend of mine, Dr Lila Rakoczy, and since reading her work I’ve become more interested in looking at the evidence for how buildings were demolished. The walls at Corfe have certainly been undermined, but there’s no clear evidence for the use of gunpowder, despite the claims on a number of panels that the site was ‘blown up’. The surviving unused sap at the base of the keep’s latrine tower is a simple horizontal rectangular slot, which I think argues for the use of the ‘burnt timber prop’ method of undermining – i.e. using timbers to prop up the wall as the sap is excavated, and then burning them out to bring down the mass of masonry above. Drawings of near-contemporary saps used for explosive undermining, e.g. in Vauban’s work, show that these saps tend to be hollowed out behind a small opening in the outer face of the wall, to contain the blast and thus maximise the effect of the explosion on the masonry.  A bit anorakish, but it keeps me happy.

Possible sap at the base of the Keep's latrine tower, The masonry at the right hand corner is, I think, relatively-modern underpinning.

After that, I enjoyed a much faster and prettier drive home by avoiding the main roads. So there you have it – two days for the price of one, and I got to see some archaeology on one of them.

Brian Kerr, Head of Archaeological Projects, English Heritage


A view from the digital attic

The Location: The Internet Archaeology office, King’s Manor, Dept. Archaeology, University of York

Some last minute changes to childcare arrangements have meant that I am not in the office for the Day of Archaeology itself, so this is written on the Day before the Day of Archaeology but is still pretty typical of the range of things I do.

Picture the scene: It’s a beautiful sunny day in York and from my office window here in the King’s Manor attics,  I have a rather splendid view of St Mary’s Abbey and the busy Yorkshire Museum Gardens where Antiques Roadshow is filming today! My window is open and I hear the pleasant hum of people talking and laughing, and the occasional train horn from the station just across the river.

It looks a bit like this except much busier and sunnier! (and yes, I know I’m lucky having a view like this)

Museum gardens and the ruins of St Mary's Abbey Thanks to Jen Mitcham for the picture.

Morning: I have spent most of the morning formatting in HTML a very long bibliography (472 entries!) with a large number of Norwegian, Swedish, German, Danish and Polish references on medieval bone and antler hair combs. I am making sure all the accented letters are marked up as HTML entities to ensure they display correctly. The bibliography has already gone through the beady eye of our copy-editor but there are always more things to fix at every stage right up until the day of publication. And so as I go,  I remove some surplus commas, full-stops, and double-check spellings, as well as add ‘anchors’ to each reference (so that in-text citations go to the correct reference) and also add URLs and/or DOIs where possible. The task is interrupted by an emailed subscription query from an overseas agent checking the 2012 institutional price for the journal. I welcome the distraction and subsequently update the subscriptions page to avoid further queries on the matter! (And if your library does not yet subscribe to Internet Archaeology, send your librarian this link!)

I’ve only just started to work on the article (“An Atlas of Medieval Combs from Northern Europe”) which the long bibliography is associated with. Much more work is needed before that’ll be ready for publication (I’ve not even started on the images and maps), and so I’ve decided to give myself a break and return to it later. I check my inbox  and one email contains the news that some funds have been agreed to make an article I’ve just released Open Access. Unusual for this to happen post-publication, but welcome news nontheless. I’ll await official confirmation before making the access changes.

Internet Archaeology is what is currently called a “hybrid Open Access journal” where authors (or more usually their research funding bodies) can pay to make their article freely available rather than be subject to subscription. And part of my job is to remind and encourage all potential authors to approach me early enough so that I can draw up costs so they can be included in research funding applications. It clearly worked in this case!

The last of the LEAP II exemplars was completed earlier this week, and a quick chat to Kieron from the Archaeology Data Service downstairs confirms that the associated archive is ready too. So I  ‘plumb in’ the article to the issue Table of Contents and add it to the subscriptions management system and to the LEAP II project pages. See the fruits of our labours at:  on laser scanning artefacts from late pre-Columbian villages and towns in mid-central USA and from the Egyptian site of Amarna . The LEAPII project exemplars try to integrate narrative with underlying data, publication with archive, blurring the boundaries between the two and allowing readers to drill down through the resource to investigate data and come to their own (maybe different) conclusions. In this final exemplar, the article integrated with digital data hosted by both the Archaeology Data Service in York and tDAR in Arizona. I’m very hopeful that the LEAP II exemplars will generate some real interest and stimulate contributions to the journal from more overseas archaeologists. A comments feature has been added which will allow readers to interact with authors and other readers too. But the hard work has not finished. I now need to start thinking about what has been achieved and learnt from the LEAP II experience for the end of project report. I insert some thoughts down in the journal’s internal ‘wiki’ to elaborate on later, and go back to my references.

1.30pm Very spooky! Just received a new article proposal from a US-based author who wishes to link their proposed article to an online database and would like the article to pan and zoom through data and images. Offering the ability to connect readers with searchable datasets is even now still something not routine to most to e-journals, andso  I’m glad to see that the message that IA does is filtering through unprompted 🙂 I need to clarify and follow up some technical details with the authors but this looks like it could become a really great article. Bibliography work beckons.

3pm An email comes in from JISC Collections following a request from me to re-word and simplify the licences that UK Higher and Further Education institutions need to sign. Essentially JISC has purchased access to the journal on their behalf but librarians need to register first and sign a licence confirming rights – hopefully this will make their life – and mine – just a little bit simpler! Back to the bibliography, but working through the references is constant reminder of just how small the archaeology community is and yet how much it actually achieves.  It seems there’s almost always a handful of people I know personally in the list of references — whatever the topic! But there are poignant moments of reflection too when I come across a reference (or in this case, several) to publications by people no longer with us and I pause to remember fondly my former IA colleague Alan Vince.

4.30pm I’m still not finished. This is one long bibliography…

5pm Proposal and first draft of a recently accepted submission saved to USB to read over the weekend. I’ll be visualising what I can do technically to make it work as an online publication and will also need to ponder on a referee. Off home to my two lovely boys and husband, and so the end of my archaeology day. Well, sort of …  not sure we ever stop being archaeologists.